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Limit junk foods, increase activity to combat childhood obesity

Why are kids getting fat? Two reasons: eating the wrong foods and lack of physical activity.

Limit junk foods for your kids

"Kids are prone to displace healthy foods with junk foods," says Mara Vitolins, DrPH, a nutritionist and registered dietician, of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. "They hear and see lots of advertisements for foods that have few nutrients and are loaded with sugar and salt."

Vitolins, assistant professor of public health sciences (epidemiology) says if your child infrequently consumes small amounts of junk food -- once or twice a week -- there's no need to worry. However, if this is a regular event, start changing that pattern slowly, and the sooner the better."

Tips

1. Don't buy junk foods, even for yourself: What's on the kitchen shelf is what your kids are going to eat. "You need to set the standard of healthy eating at home," she says. "A great side effect is that you eat healthier too!"

2. Have fruits and vegetables cut and ready to eat. "Children are not going to go to the effort of washing and cutting them up for themselves," Vitolins says. "Take the extra time in the morning to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables for your children to snack on. Let your children know where they are in the refrigerator and see what happens."

3. Allow your child to select a new "healthy" food to try. "Many times children won't try healthy foods because they aren't part of the process of selecting them," she says.

But kids are getting fatter even when eating only healthy food, because they are not moving enough to burn the calories they consume. "Extra calories from any foods (healthy or unhealthy) mean extra pounds," Vitolins says.

What is a parent to do?

1. Reward good behavior with trips to the park rather than snacks

2. Engage your entire family in regular physical activity. Start by taking walks after dinner.

3. Set limits on the amount of television your family watches. If you turn off the television, your children probably will go outside and play.

4. Limit computer games and time on the Internet

"Every summer our television had ''reception problems'' when I was young," says Vitolins. "My ingenious father told us when we were older that he disconnected our TV antenna to get us outside! My sisters and I have very fond memories of those summers!"

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